Thursday, January 5, 2012

Almost Lost

I didn't know until half way through our first day back. Raelyn's appendix had burst during the break and she had spent a week in the hospital.  It's a miracle she's alive.  I can't explain what it feels like to almost lose a student. I have lost them to a move, to a divorce, and heart-wrenchingly to a foster home. I can't tell you how thankful I am to have not lost Raelyn. She spent a week in the hospital including Christmas Day.  I asked if Santa found her in the hospital and she said he had.  Thank goodness! She told me about how her parents took turns sleeping with her in the hospital bed and one night even both of them had stayed with her.  The fear they must have felt, I can only imagine. You can see the toll this ordeal took on her little frame.  She's only coming to school in the mornings this week. I miss her.  We all miss her. Raelyn is a bright light in our classroom; sweet and demur, shy yet intentional. Yesterday she wrote about her hospital stay during Writers Workshop:
*Dpendix is so much cuter than appendix and I just love her picture of the bed going up and down!

Translation: I went to the hospital. I got my appendix out. I don't like the hospital. I pushed the buttons to make the bed go up and down. (later today she added, It was a little fun.)

When I talked to the class about what happened to Raelyn and how we would need to help her and look out for her for a while we talked about how the doctors helped save Raelyn.  I told them that those brilliant doctors were once six year old first graders learning to read and write, that some of them had even struggled with math and gone to the principal just like them. But because they had worked hard and stayed in school, they became great, life-saving heroes.  I asked my little charges if they thought they could grow up to be a hero someday. Every single hand went up.  Here's to hoping!

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Making 10

Today we worked on addition strategies.  One in particular; making 10. I would never have thought to teach such an advanced concept to 6 year olds but this is what the District's new math adoption says to do.  So, the idea is to teach the kids to make 10 from the two addends in order to make adding them together easier.  For example, 9+6 becomes 10+5.  I was stumped when I looked at the student pages (also known as workshits by renowned brain researcher Dr. Mary Howard).  How can I teach this concept to six year olds that are still struggling to understand what 10 is? But I went after it regardless because that is the next lesson in the book.  I don't teach like this!  Why am I teaching like this?  I am least confident in my ability to teach math. I am most easily led by a mathematics teacher's manual.  I once knew our state math standards inside and out but that was when I still taught kindergarten. Two years ago, I left what I feel is my true calling, teaching kindergarten, to teach 1st grade.  The idea was to reduce my workload and therefore my stress and free myself up to spend time with my family.  There is less prep work but there is new stress in that I am not as familiar with the 1st grade learning standards.  Of course, I'm making the transition to the literacy standards comfortably.  But math is a different story. How can I help my students gain these learning standards when I can't master them myself? I decided to take it slowly and think about what I know about how six year olds learn.  They have to see it and feel it if they are going to have a chance to understand it. I made ten-frames and passed out counting cubes.  I made up addition stories using my students' names (they are always more interested when they think it is all about them) and had them place 9 cubes on the ten-frame.  Then, continuing the story, had them add 6 more counting cubes to the ten-frame and the leftovers below it.  I asked them to tell me how many cubes were in the ten-frame: "10," and then asked how many cubes were outside of the ten-frame: "5".  That's how we turned 9+6 into 10+5.  They used the manipulatives throughout the lesson and most were able to complete their work with very little help. Will they be able to recreate this scenario and use it effectively to solve addition problems?  A few of them will.  Maybe when they see this concept again in 1st grade and again in 2nd grade and each grade beyond, it will resonate somewhere in their young minds.  More than likely they will develop their own strategy to solve addition problems.  Hopefully, what they learn the most is that they can solve problems with a little help from Mrs. Ortner.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Welcome Back!

Days like today are the reason I teach and at the same time the reason I find my job so taxing.  I love my job. I love hearing the exciting stories of what Santa left under the tree. I love teaching my charges new and exciting things; to read, to write, to add and subtract. The essentials!  But today was our first day back after a 2 week winter break. Many people think we choose to go into teaching for the long breaks in our work year but this is the part of my job I find most difficult; the stopping and the starting.  It feels like as soon as we get on a roll, it's time to stop again. Don't get me wrong, I love the opportunity the breaks give me to catch up on my sleep and projects around the house but I love my routines, too.  Morning work: Writers Workshop. After lunch: Read Aloud. After recess: Snack and a Story.  I miss my students when we are not at school and I miss the challenges I face at Daybreak Primary school.  I am supposed to re-charge and re-energize myself during these breaks but instead I find myself winding down simply to wind myself right back up again to start anew.  Or on a break like this one, my time is simply filled with a different kind of work; caring for Grandma Evie, welcoming my darling nieces who were born on the 29th, witnessing the decline of my mother-in-law into the abyss of Alzheimer's. I think I'm better at my day job of teaching first graders than I am at my job of running this house and nurturing these boys. I belong in room 105 and that's where I will be for the next 59 school days until...Spring Break.